Portions of a newly proposed federal bill bear similarities to the controversial "don't say gay" law in Florida, and could introduce restrictions even in states where legislatures remain supportive of LGBTQ+ youth.
Sen. Rick Scott of Florida and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, both Republicans, introduced a bill in the U.S. Senate that would similarly attack educators for respecting students’ gender identity, affecting the entire country.
“I have long believed that parents, not the government, know what is best for their children,” said Sen. Rick Scott. “It is time for schools to stop pushing these woke ideologies on our kids and let them focus on reading, writing, and arithmetic. I am proud to stand with my colleagues in supporting the PROTECT Kids Act to stop the indoctrination and ensure parents have a say in what happens at their kids’ school.”
The justification for the law echoes many complaints about what spurred Florida’s Republican Legislature to pass a so-called ‘parental rights in education’ statute signed last year by Gov. Ron DeSantis. That law forbids instruction about gender identity and sexual orientation in kindergarten through third grade and requires “age-appropriate” handling of the matters throughout grade school. Critics argue it also could lead to educators having to out students in non-supportive homes by disclosing to parents when children come out as LGBTQ in school but not at home.
States control curricula for school systems, and Florida’s bill seems to have inspired a flurry of similar anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in statehouses around the country.
The Senate legislation from the Scotts aims to impose its will even in states that won’t consider such legislation by tying the agenda to federal funding for schools. The Parental Rights Over the Education and Care of Their (PROTECT) Kids Act would restrict funding for any elementary or middle schools that “change their pronouns, gender markers, or sex-based accommodations, including locker rooms and bathrooms, without the consent of their parents.”
Rep. Tim Walberg, a Michigan Republican, is expected to introduce a similar bill in the House.
By including bathrooms in the bill, which is not part of the Florida law, the proposal flies in the face of U.S. Supreme Court precedent. The high court in 2021 upheld the right for trans and nonbinary students' rights to use bathrooms and other facilities that match their gender identity.
The federal legislation, though, recasts treatment of LGBTQ+ recognition in schools as an issue about parental input but would allow parents of cisgender students to object to what bathroom facilities transgender students can access.
“Far too often, parents are pushed out of their child’s education—and kids are paying the price,” Sen. Tim Scott said. “As the party of parents, Republicans are committed to ensuring that parents are always in the driver’s seat when it comes to their child’s upbringing. I am proud to stand for parental rights and put forth my PROTECT Kids Act to ensure parents remain the lead decision maker in their child’s life.”